Climate Change Killed Pond Hockey
On Long Island in the early 1950s, skating and hockey took place on ponds. There were two kinds. The first was local and small, where a few families might gather on a weekend afternoon. Then there was Beaver Dam, the Yankee Stadium of ponds. Or so it seemed to a four-year old.
It was about 10 miles away from where I lived, and it drained into Long Island sound. A causeway kept the sea water from flowing in the other direction, which would have ended the possibility of the pond ever freezing. If there was a dam and if it was built by beavers, I never saw it or them.
There was sort of a parking area and a warming hut with pier barely above water level that provided access to the ice. Sometimes a ramp was extended outward if the ice near the shore wasn’t thick enough. That was pretty much it. Well, other than hotdogs, hot chocolate and a great big fireplace.
Beaver Dam was presided over by a man who wore the kind of hat favored by railway conductors or Charles de Gaulle. He had a military title like Colonel or Captain. He seemed to be the sort of person best not to mess with, especially if you were four.
There were chairs on blades that could be used for support by wobbly skaters or, presumably by older boys, for courting their non-skating girlfriends. Today, there would be no such thing. Here I am speculating, because four-year olds are not well versed in such matters.
The pond seemed about the size of Lake Superior and you could unzip your jacket and use it like a sail to go all the way to the other end. That led to an important life lesson: he who skates with the wind is then required to skate back against it.
The smallest children did not play hockey, but they probably began when they were about seven or eight. 1953 or 1954, in my case. The hockey was not organized, and it could involve whatever number of players were there. The teams were all ages and divided randomly into lights and darks, based on the color of their jerseys.
The tweed jacket, in which my father played, was thought to be dark. He often wore his shin guards outside of his gray flannel trousers. Helmets were unheard of.
Nor were there boards like we have today or goals either, as these would have floated away or sunk when the ice melted, as inevitably it did.
Over a few years in the 1950s, the pond stopped freezing and there were fewer and fewer days of skating to justify the $15 annual membership dues. This development would lead in a new direction.
It would also prove to be my first exposure to the concept of climate change, which would not become “a thing” for many decades to come.
Notwithstanding wearing his shin guards outside of his gray flannel trousers or treating a tweed jacket as a hockey jersey – or perhaps for the very reason that he did – my father was the President of the Beaver Dam Winter Sports Club. It fell to him to solve the lack of ice problem.
He and some other stalwarts built an “artificial” rink across the pond on a narrow sliver of land between a railway track and the water. The idea was to have what would today be called a skating rink (because they are all “artificial”) with nearby access to the natural pond ice when it was cold enough.
Had the idea been hatched today, there is precisely zero possibility it would ever have been built because the permits needed to drive across the tracks and to build adjacent to wetlands would have been tied up in unending litigation.
By the time the rink was finished, and a children’s team was organized, I had been packed off to a Swiss boarding school as part of a divorce agreement. I would not play a game for Beaver Dam until after college.
The person who is now my wife wanted to play on that children’s team, but she was not allowed to because she was — and still is (important to clear that up these days) — a girl.
Beaver Dam had a grown-up team in something called the Commuter League because all of the teams were in New York City suburbs. Years later, I provided a welcome breather for the aging stars by filling a spot on the third line. My father still played in his gray flannels, but the shin guards were generally underneath. The tweed jacket was replaced by a hockey jersey but still no helmet. The jersey hangs in a glass shadow box frame above the door of a room named in his honor.
There was an annual event called the Junior Senior Game. The players were divided into two teams: those in college or younger versus those out of college and older. No woman would ever have come up with such an idea nor would anyone with the slightest understanding of human nature let alone anyone who had ever read Oedipus.
The older players were in decline and the younger ones were still in their high testosterone years. The game was always a disaster characterized by hard feelings on all sides both before and after. The eye rolling injuries sustained by wives and mothers tended to recover in due time.
Beaver Dam Winter Sports Club still exists. There are grown up hockey groups and countless children’s teams.
For some reason, the grown-ups are divided into three levels: B, C and C+. I suppose there was once an A level but, as the best players got older, they moved down and the Bs just became older As. The C+s are called that because nobody wants to be Ds.
My older brother is the heart and soul of the C+s and my daughter, avenging the spurning of her mother six decades earlier, is a C. A highlight of my hockey year is an occasional guest appearance with the C+s, most of whom are far better and younger than me.
For a brief interval each winter the grownups of whatever level reorganize themselves for the Olympics. There is a draft in which the players are assigned to teams named for hockey powers like Scotland, Mexico and Iceland.
There are three small children learning to skate and play hockey thanks in part to a man who surely never heard the words climate change, but who responded to it, nonetheless.